How to Improve Your Kitchen’s Efficiency

Boost your restaurant's success and keep customers happy with these expert tips.
Ensure that the food at your restaurant is not only tasty, but comes out in a timely manner. (Photo: Volodymyr Goinyk)

When dining out, consumers expect their restaurant service to be friendly and their food to come in a timely manner. As the backbone of the restaurant, the kitchen must be quick and efficient so that the entire operation is a success and positive experience for the guest.

“We are in the hospitality business and create memories and experiences,” said David Scott Peters, founder of restaurant consultancy The Restaurant Expert. Long ticket times “break the bond” with the guest and draw away from their dining experience, he explained.

If you’re taking longer than average to serve your diners, here are some tips on speeding up your kitchen processes.

Know your average ticket times

Before you can shorten your guests’ wait, you must first know how long it takes your kitchen to prepare and deliver each piece of the meal. Calculating these benchmarks will give you specific goals to target when optimizing your kitchen.

Keith Marshall

According to Keith Marshall of Absolute Restaurant Consultants, lunch entrees should get to the table in 10 minutes, while dinner entrees should arrive at the table in 14 minutes or less. (Photo: Keith Marshall)

Keith Marshall of Absolute Restaurant Consultants said non-alcoholic beverages should arrive within two minutes, while alcoholic drinks and appetizers typically need to get to the table within four minutes of ordering. Most lunch diners expect their entree within 10 minutes, and dinner entrees should be out of the kitchen in 14 minutes or less. Desserts should take four minutes at most, he said.

Keep in mind, typical wait times will depend on what kind of restaurant you own, said Christopher Papagni, principal of CP Consulting. Customers are more patient when visiting a high-end steakhouse than they would be at a pizza joint, for instance.

Related: How a Kitchen Printer Can Drastically Improve Your Restaurant’s Efficiency

Simplify your menu

One reason your kitchen may be running slow is because you’re simply offering too many options. “The most common problem among independent restaurants is that they try to be everything to everybody,” said Marshall. Trying to please too many different tastes breeds mediocrity, not excellence, he said.

According to Marshall, most restaurant menus should have around 25 items and be made up of simple dishes. “You don’t need a salad with 42 things in it,” he said. Instead, find ways to use the same item in various dishes. For example, if you serve pulled pork, you could offer it on a salad, on a platter or as a sandwich. Cross-utilization of ingredients like this will save you time – and money – in the kitchen.

Related: How to Optimize Your Menu to Lower Your Food Costs

Dare to prepare


Prepare as much as you can before opening your doors for the day. (Photo: IriGri/Shutterstock)

Before you open your doors for the day, make sure you’ve done as much prep as you can beforehand, said Papagni. “Prep really is the key to cooking efficiently,” he said. “Let’s say you have service beginning at noon. You should go in at 10:00 in the morning and do all your preparations in advance.”

Peters recommended pre-portioning ingredients and placing commonly combined items near each other on your shelves. “Think about where in the ingredients stage you can have less steps,” said Peters. Think of the assembly line approach many sandwich shops take, he said. “All they do is grab a bun, slice it and put on the ingredients.” Everything, from chopped toppings to common meat combinations are prepared in advance to optimize the speed of service.

Hire and train quality kitchen employees

Christopher Papagni

“Communication is key. If waiters don’t communicate with the customers, they will get mad.” -Christopher Papagni (Photo: Christopher Papagni)

Instead of hiring a bunch of untrained, minimum-wage employees, Marshall recommended sticking with the experts, if you can afford it. “Restaurant owners should hire premium people,” he said. “I would rather pay one person $20 an hour than two people $10 an hour. Ninety-nine percent of chefs will agree with me: You can’t get talent for minimum wage.”

Related: How to Hire Your First Restaurant Employees

Peters said that in his experience, restaurants do not put much thought into where they place employees around the kitchen, which slows down their efficiency.

When bringing in entry-level kitchen workers, Peters suggests restaurant owners train them on the easiest station first: the fryer. Once they have mastered frying, they can get a raise and move on to learning the salad station, and keep progressing until they can perform the hardest of kitchen tasks. If everyone knows what they are doing, things will run much more smoothly, he said.

“Communication is key,” said Papagni. When a dish is going to take longer to make, the kitchen should make sure the servers are aware so they can relay that to the guest and manage their expectations. “If waiters don’t communicate with the customers, they will get mad,” he said, which can negatively impact their experience, as well as your restaurant’s bottom line.

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